Impressions of the WGGT
Editor's Notebook, November 1999
Susan and I spent a glorious ten days on the Monterey peninsula in early October. We rented a small house in Pacific Grove, just a stone's throw from the ocean on the edge of Asilomar State Park and spent our days walking the shore and driving the curves of Highway One in our red rental Mustang convertible (with the, damn, automatic transmission).
|beauty and power|
On the last three of those days we wandered over to Laguna Seca State Park because we had heard there might be some automobile racing going on there. We were not disappointed. The American Le Mans Series was in town and for sheer race car beauty and power it is hard to match the sports car prototypes we saw dive through the Cork Screw and brake at Turn Ten. The open cockpit Ferrari's and BMW's were smooth and fast and the Panoz roadsters put the power down like no other car I've seen.
A very special moment for me was my first glimpse of the Women's Global GT Series paddock. I arrived just as the drivers were suiting up and strapping in for a practice run. To see seventeen professional women drivers in full race gear putting on their race faces and girding themselves to do battle reminded me of the
immense courage it takes for them to do what they love best in the face of the overwhelming obstacles they encounter. It was a truly inspiring sight.
I was pleased to see that the WGGT was positioned as the major support race for the ALMS. The Ferrari Challenge and the Speedvision World Challenge races were held on Saturday. The Sports Toyota Championship race was held early Sunday morning. The women's race followed immediately after the conclusion of the ALMS race on Sunday afternoon.
The WGGT practice and qualifying sessions were, for the most part, uneventful and drew appreciative audiences from the relatively small crowds on Friday and Saturday. It was clear that there were great differences among the abilities of the drivers, not only in the large spread in qualifying times, but in the precision with which the drivers negotiated the corners and the understanding of the track that they conveyed through their driving decisions.
|dedicated and accomplished|
These were seventeen dedicated, active, and accomplished professional race car drivers. Some were very smooth and fast and could be ranked among the best drivers anywhere. As a group, however, they were not the best seventeen drivers among all the women drivers in the sport.
Does this matter? Certainly the Sports Toyota race didn't feature the best drivers in the sport. Even the ALMS race was missing some drivers with real name recognition. If, however, women drivers are to be showcased in a single race series that is held up as the example of what women can accomplish on the race track, it would be best if the series could put the best seventeen drivers on the track.
Susan and I watched the ALMS race from the hillside overlooking the dry lake, (which had more water in it than I had ever seen before) just over the ridge from the Cork Screw. At the conclusion of that race, many fans began leaving but a goodly number remained for the WGGT race. I asked a couple of nearby fans, a mother and her pre-teen daughter, if the WGGT race was special to them. They didn't know much about the series or the drivers, but they were eager to watch and to learn.
I overheard two older men deciding to stay for the race because they wanted to see some good crashes. It was all I could do to keep silent, but I realized I wasn't going to change any minds or make any friends with whatever I could say to them.
|painful to watch|
The next half hour was very painful to watch. A debacle just after the green flag but before start/finish put two or three cars out of the race. The lead cars made it into Turn Two before they collided and, I understand, a couple more cars went off track elsewhere on the course. If you were looking for crashes, you had come to the right place.
Most of the allotted 45 minute race time seemed to be taken up with clearing the track and restarting. The racing itself was fairly predictable. With few exceptions the cars began to string out farther apart and the slower cars were lapped. A driver made a challenge for the front and front runner dropped back with tire problems. Not great racing.
|What can we do?|
A mark of success for women in racing will be when a healthy percentage of drivers in most race series are women. A mark will be when there are no special hurtles that women must leap to get on the track and be accepted as true competitors. Another mark might be when the concept of a race for women only is seen as an anachronism.
We are not there yet. The WGGT is here and it is important. The question is: how can we make it better? How can we make it do what it must do to further the acceptance of women in the sport?